ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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France delivers proposal for Hezbollah withdrawal, border talks for Israel-Lebanon truce

Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, February 8, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, February 8, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

France has delivered a written proposal to Beirut aimed at ending hostilities with Israel and settling the disputed Lebanon-Israel frontier, according to a document seen by Reuters that calls for Hezbollah and other groups to withdraw 10 km (6 miles) from the border.

The plan aims to end fighting between the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel at the border. The hostilities have run in parallel to the Gaza war and are fueling concern of a ruinous, all-out confrontation.

The document, the first written proposal brought to Beirut during weeks of Western mediation, was delivered to top Lebanese state officials including Prime Minister Najib Mikati by French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne last week, four senior Lebanese and three French officials say.

The three-step plan envisages a 10-day process of de-escalation ending with the border negotiations.

One French diplomatic source said the proposal had been put to the governments of Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah. France has historical ties with Lebanon. It has 20,000 citizens in the country and some 800 troops as part of a UN peacekeeping force.

“We made proposals. We are in contact with the Americans and it’s important that we bring together all initiatives and build peace,” Sejourne tells a news conference.

The plan proposes Lebanese armed groups and Israel would cease military operations against each other, including Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon.

Since October 8, a day after the October 7 massacre by terror ally Hamas, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in six civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of nine IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 193 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 29 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 19 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

Israel has been warning that if Hezbollah does not move back from the northern border in accordance with UN Resolution 1701, it will be forced to take action.

The French document declares the aim of preventing a conflict “that risks spiraling out of control” and enforcing “a potential ceasefire, when the conditions are right” and ultimately envisions negotiations on delineation of the contentious land border between Lebanon and Israel.

Hezbollah rejects formally negotiating a de-escalation until the war in Gaza ends, a position reiterated by a Hezbollah politician in response to questions for this story.

While some details of similar mediation efforts by US Middle East envoy Amos Hochstein have been circulating in recent weeks, the full details of the French written proposal delivered to Lebanon have not previously been reported.

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